The other day a colleague of mine ran a session on writing better user stories. This was very good: As is the way with these round-the-table sessions, people are on edge for the first thirty minutes or so, but you eventually get interesting comments coming through, especially towards the end. The people round the table were a cross-section of developers, analysts and project managers.

One thing that I thought was interesting and encouraging was that there did seem to be a general view that User Stories aren’t all you need. I’ve written previously about this here . Personally, I think they are a great way of focussing the mind and providing a clear ‘statement of intent’, ‘placeholder for conversations’, ‘heading for other work’ and so on.

That in itself is important, but that is all they are.

One of the project managers said something quite interesting which was that they start off as place holders for conversations and then turn into something quite different – a kind of ‘umbrella’ for acceptance tests and so on. I would go further and say they are an umbrella for whatever artefacts you need to adequately describe what you are doing.

Quite obviously, User Stories can’t replace any of this (and I doubt the originators of the technique make any claim that it should). They still need to be supplemented by other artifacts and ‘things’, for two reasons:

- firstly, the obvious one: To provide more detail and information to get people working productively.

- secondly, and less obviously, to help with the fact that they might be wrong. Or incomplete. User Stories are written by humans and like anything else might be flawed. By having other references, artefacts and sources of knowledge, you can validate the stories themselves. But you can only do this if you have something different to compare against.

This second point is an aspect of the ‘completeness issue’ which Alistair cockburn has written about many times, and which I call the ‘importance of something else’. It is natural for IT people to think in terms of a single ‘replacement’ or single ‘solution’ for things – it’s part of the technology psychie. The quest for a ‘silver bullet’. So one shouldn’t be surprised when some people will start jumping to the (wrong) conclusion that ‘we-now-have-user-stories-so-we-dont-need-anything-else’. This is dangerous. More than one view of the world is important – that is how we discover new things and uncover questions that might not be obvious. Furthermore it’s how we discover information the users might not volunteer to us.

Of course, there will still be people that insist they dont need anything more than a user story. I’ve certainly encountered people that have worked for so long with a particular system or product they probably don’t even need the story. They know instinctively what to do. All I can say is, if thats all you need, good luck. But for the rest of us, it is – to coin a phrase – a different story.

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